Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in the Baltimore-DC area and something of a Washington insider. He served as the United States District Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Jackson administration. Of course, we know him best as the man who wrote the words to our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
In September of 1814, Key and another lawyer had gone aboard a British ship anchored in Chesapeake Bay to negotiate the release of a civilian who had been taken prisoner. They were successful in their efforts but one of the conditions of the release was that they all had to remain offshore until after the British had finished their attack upon Baltimore. Presumably they were worried about strategic information the lawyers might have learned while on the ship. As a result, they spent the night watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, a few miles away.
Key knew that as long as the shelling continued it meant the Americans hadn’t surrendered. He also knew the same was true as long as he could see the flag flying and looked for it throughout the night whenever the artillery exchange illuminated the sky. This led him to pen the words, “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
According to Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead, who was the officer in charge of Ft. McHenry, there were “two slight intermissions” during the bombardment. Key became quite anxious and was only fully assured when in the early morning light he saw the United States flag still flying over the fort. His jubilation led to the opening lines of our anthem, “O say can you see by the dawn’s early light . . .”
If the flag Key saw early that morning somehow looked different—there was a reason beyond that of the battle being over and the fort still in American hands. It had been raining for during the bombardment. The normal flag that flew over the fort (known as the garrison flag) was 30’ x 42’ feet. The problem with such a large flag was that if it became water-soaked, the additional weight would snap the flag pole. The solution to this was to use another flag known as the storm flag. It was about half the size of the garrison flag and is what Key would have seen illuminated by the artillery fire during the night.
The rain stopped somewhere around the time that the shelling did. The storm flag was replaced by the garrison flag. At daylight, this was the flag that Key saw as he anxiously searched the sky. If it looked bigger, brighter and more glorious—it’s because it really was.
All of this makes me think about Jesus and how we see Him. In our life we have moments of darkness, storms, bombardments and the like. During such times, it can be hard to see Jesus clearly. Nonetheless, we know He is there. One day, we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). What a sight that will be! No matter what we thought He was like before, He will be bigger, brighter, more wonderful and glorious than we had or could ever had imagined. Until that time, we keep fighting. We refuse to surrender. We will not give up, give in or go away.
We eat the bread. We drink the cup. We proclaim His death.
Until He comes.